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New Hawai’i Bills Seek to Undermine Kauai and Big Island’s GMO Regulatory Laws

Identical House and Senate bills aim to strengthen Hawaii’s Right to Farm Act and protect “modern farming practices”

Update 2: Follow the Money

Update 2, 3:20 p.m: Follow the Money: GMO seed company lobbyist threw fundraising events in December for three state senators who introduced SB 3058 yesterday. (Please scroll to the bottom of the copy to read more.)

UPDATE, 10.00 a.m

Big Biotech and its supporters are battening down the hatches against the growing movement against the GMO seeds industry in Hawai’i. Yesterday, (January 23), just two weeks after three big GMO seed companies sued Kauai County over its new GMO regulatory law, Hawai’i state legislators have introduced a two identical bills in the state House and Senate that would prevent the island state’s counties from passing any laws that limit the rights of farmers “to engage in modern farming and ranching practices.”

GMO field in KauaiPhoto by Ian UmedaWhile the bills don’t specifically mention GMO crops, the impetus behind it is pretty clear.

House Bill 2506 (pdf) and Senate Bill 3058 (pdf), seeking to amend Hawaii’s Right to Farm Act, was introduced by in the House of Representatives by Rep Richard Onishi of the Big Island, and 36 other lawmakers of the 51-member House, and in the Senate by Sen. ClarenceNishihara and 10 other state senators. Nishihara is the chair of the Senate Committee on Agriculture. The Right to Farm Act was framed to protect farming operations from nuisance suits.

Current language in the Act says:

“No court, official, public servant, or public employee shall declare any farming operation a nuisance for any reason if the farming operation has been conducted in a manner consistent with generally accepted agricultural and management practices.  There shall be a rebuttable presumption that a farming operation does not constitute a nuisance.”

While neither of the bills specifically mention GMO crops, the impetus behind them is pretty clear given they come close on the heels of county-level legislations that target the activities of the five big GMO seed companies that dominate Hawaii’s agricultural scene.

Here the additional language the bills seek to introduce to the paragraph quoted above from the Right to Farm Act:

 “The right of farmers and ranchers to engage in modern farming and ranching practices shall be forever guaranteed in this State.  No law, ordinance, or resolution of any unit of local government shall be enacted that abridges the right of farmers and ranchers to employ agricultural technology, modern livestock production, and ranching practices not prohibited by federal or state law, rules, or regulations." (italics, mine)

In a statement to local media, Onishi, who seems to be the House bill’s author said: “Like many other states, Hawaii has had to deal with encroaching urbanization and pressure it puts on our farms and agricultural lands. Unlike most states, Hawai‘i is an island with very limited space for agricultural endeavors. We’ve seen how hard it’s been to protect our ag lands and to keep them productive in the face of other pressing needs and priorities.”

Hawai‘i food activists were expecting the two new laws passed by Kauai and Big Island regulating the GMO seeds industry on each of the islands to be challenged using the Right to Farm Act, but these new billd add another twist in the tale.

I learned about the bills after midnight last night. I haven’t been able to reach out to anyone in Hawaii yet (it’s early morning there as I write this).  Watch out for updates.


Update 2: Follow the Money: 

Nomi Carmona of Babes Against Biotech (BAB), a Honolulu-based watchdog group that has been tracking the “Big Five” biotech companies and their lobbyists financial contributions to Hawaii lawmakers, just sent across documents showing that Alicia Maluafiti, executive director of the GMO seed group Hawaii Crop Improvement Association, threw $500-a-pop fundraising events in December for at least three primary state senators who introduced SB 3058 yesterday — Clarence Nishihara, Rosalyn Baker, and Michelle Kidani. The events were held on December 9 and 18 at two chain restaurants in Oahu, Roys and Ruth Chris.

According to financial disclosure records gathered by BAB, Maluafiti has given over $14,000 to Hawaii legislators between 2007 and 2013.

During the same period Senator Clarence Nishihara received $14,412 chemical industry and $4,400 from the Grocery Manufacturer’s Association (recently under investigation for hiding the origin of the contributors to their campaign against Washington State’s GMO labeling initiative); Senator Rosalyn Baker, the second introducer of SB 3058, has received $20,718 from chemical/GMO companies and their registered lobbyists, and Senator Michelle Kidani received the highest amount of the three — $24,550 — from chemical/GMO companies.

Carmona says the bills, which she calls “gift legislations” are “an expected attempt to strip the counties of the ability to protect their residents from the pesticide exposure and genetic experimentation.”

State legislators have to turn in their latest financial disclosure statements on January 31. There might be more money trails to follow then.


Maureen Nandini Mitra, Editor, Earth Island Journal.Maureen Nandini Mitra photo
In addition to her work at the Journal, Maureen writes for several other magazines and online publications in the US and India. A journalism graduate from Columbia University, her work has appeared in the San Francisco Public Press, The New Internationalist, Sueddeutsche Zeitung, The Caravan and Down to Earth.

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